Tag: 1946 Page 1 of 3
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 20, 1946.
“A man’s cellar,” enunciated Jimmie Frise, “is his castle.”
“Just a minute …” I put in.
“It used to be a man’s home is his castle,” went on Jim firmly, “but that is no longer true. Little by little, in the past 50 years, men have been pushed farther and farther out of their own homes. Today, about the only part of the house a man is supposed to rule is the cellar.”
“When men began to shave off their beards,” I contributed, “they began to lose their authority in the home.”
“Once upon a time,” recollected Jim, “when a man came home from work, he sat down to supper in peace and quiet. There were no funnies in the newspapers, so nobody wanted to look at the paper but him. The family ate in orderly fashion. The children helped mother red up the dishes. Father retired to the living-room and sat down in his easy chair to spend the evening reading the news.”
“If there was too much noise in the kitchen,” I added, “the father roared for a little less racket.”
“Correct,” said Jim. “Then, when the dishes were done, the children quietly closed the dining-room doors and set to their home work on the dining-room table. Mother brought her knitting and settled down modestly in the rocking chair in the living-room. If father saw anything in the papers that he thought might interest mother, he might read a little of it to her.”
“Through his beard,” I pointed out.
”But mostly,” said Jim, “the evening went in perfect peace and quiet except for father clearing his throat occasionally, in a deep, warning sort of way, if anybody started whispering or giggling in the dining-room.”
“There was no radio,” I put in. “No phonograph. No comics. No movie theatre down at the foot of the street. No motor car in the side drive wheedling everybody to go places.”
“Those,” submitted Jimmie, “were the days. It paid to be a man in those days. The man was the bread winner. He was the mainstay, the prop, the foundation of the whole family. It was the duty of the family to nurture him, tend him, care for him.”
“Aaaaaahhh,” I sighed.
Then,” cried Jim, tensing, “the insidious change began. First – the phonograph.”
“Or was it the comics?” I questioned.
“Maybe it was the telephone,” corrected Jim. “Let’s go right back to the days when men wore beards and sat like gods in their living-rooms. Yes, I bet it was the telephone.”
“The jangle of the telephone bell,” I recalled, “would suddenly disturb the peace and serenity of the home. It might be somebody to talk to father. It might be somebody to talk to mother. At any rate, the seclusion, the sanctity of a man’s castle was broken, invaded.”
“Then followed all the other so-called advances,” said Jim. “The phonograph, the movies, the comics, cheap pianos around which the young people could gather, the motor car, to make home a mere base of operations, then radio …”
“Now,” I recounted, “instead of man coming solemnly and portentously home, to an institution awaiting him in all obedience and respect, a man comes home to find his children, like tiger cats, poised to jump him, grab the paper off him and tear it to pieces on the living-room floor. The radio is on full blast. The telephone is ringing. Mother has the movie page, picking out what show he’ll go to; and the housemaid is demanding to know if this is her night to have the car.”
“Spring Cleaning Time”
“And there, in the midst,” said Jim, “is the man, a poor little clean-shaven guy…”
“Jim,” I demanded, “do you suppose all these so-called advances of civilization might be an insidious plot on the part of the women of the world? Isn’t it a fact that the suffragette movement began just about the time the telephone was invented? Doesn’t it seem strange to you that all these inventions, like the phonograph, the radio, the movies, the motor car, have kept pace, step by step, with the emancipation of women?”
“Did,” added Jimmie, “the emancipation of women accelerate the invention of all these home-destroying agencies; or did the invention of all these home-destroying agencies… I refer to the destruction of the home from the point of view of the man … accelerate the emancipation of women?”
“There’s a very funny hook-up there somewhere, Jim,” I assured. “The more comfortable the world becomes, the more insignificant men become.”
“And the more uncomfortable,” said Jim.
“Aw,” I offered, “maybe we’re just suffering like this, Jim, because it’s the annual spring cleaning season.”
“That may be it,” sighed Jimmie. “Do you suppose that heroic guy we were describing a minute ago, that bearded big guy sitting reading the newspaper in a silent and orderly home, had to put up with housecleaning too?”
“Ah, worse,” I reminded. “Don’t you remember, the carpets were made the full size of the rooms and were tacked down all around the edges? There were carpets in the halls, there were carpets on the stairs, all fastened down with tacks and with nickel-plated corners to hold the stair carpets in place.”
“That was for the sake of quiet,” explained Jim. “A man didn’t want to be annoyed by the sound of people tramping around the house and pattering up and downstairs. Quiet was what a man wanted in those days. Peace and quiet.”
“Yes, but spring cleaning!” I exclaimed. “Boy, what a riot! All those carpets torn up, all of them taken out to the backyard and beaten with carpet-beaters. Wire carpet-beaters and rattan carpet-beaters…. I’ve swung them by the hour as a boy! And the scrubbing of the floors underneath. And the shifting and taking apart of beds, dressers, sideboards…”
“The city,” agreed Jim, “in spring was a din of carpets being thudded and tacked down, and the squeaking and banging of beds and sideboards being taken apart.”
“What did that old bearded guy do in those days?” I tried to recollect.
“He went trout fishing,” explained Jim. “That is why trout fishing used to begin on April 15. In those days there were no highways, so Papa had to make his trout fishing trip by train and be away a week to 10 days, somewhere up in the country, staying at one of those good, thriving hotels that flourished all over. While Papa, in his whiskers, was away trout fishing, his patient and obedient wife, with the aid of the older children, did the spring cleaning. And Papa arrived back to find everything in order and all sweet and tidy for another year of peace and quiet….”
“What dopes we are!” I muttered.
“Have they started at your place?” inquired Jim.
“They’ve been at it two weeks,” I sighed.
“Do they do the cellar?” asked Jim.
“Yes, there’s a playroom down there, so they won’t let me….” I explained.
“You’re lucky,” said Jim. “My cellar has the furnace-room, my work bench and the fruit cellar; and the tradition has been established that the furnace and the work bench make the cellar my problem.”
“Aw, that shouldn’t be much of a problem, Jim,” I chided. “After all, a little sweeping around your bench. A little straightening away of the furnace tools, the shovel, the poker….”
“I know, I know,” agreed Jim. “It’s just the principle of the thing.”
“Look, when I was a kid,” I laughed, “the cellar was my job. I did the tidying up there. I even sloshed down the floors with a few buckets of warm water and a long-handled sort of stable brush. I straightened away the furnace tools, put the coal bin planks neatly in one corner. Carried out a few old boxes and stuff. It didn’t take me half a Saturday morning. And then my mother would come down and inspect the cellar and congratulate me.”
“I suppose there’s nothing to it,” muttered Jim.
“Why, look,” I offered, “I’ll gladly come over and give you a hand at straightening up your cellar, if that’s what you are hinting at. It will give me a nice sentimental feeling. It will bring back my boyhood. …”
“Would you really?” smiled Jim eagerly. “Gosh, Greg, you’ve no idea how a little company, a little co-operation, makes light work of a hateful task.”
“Good Old Guys”
“Aw, it’s just that old-fashioned man in us that rebels,” I explained. “It’s a sort of resentment we feel, coming from our ancestors, good old guys who never deigned to do a tap around the house, on principle…”
“When can you come over?” asked Jim eagerly.
“What’s the matter now?” I replied. “We’ve nothing else on.”
“The reason I’d like to do it now,” admitted Jim, “is this is garbage day and there are a couple of things I’d like to put out…”
“Let’s go,” I agreed.
“How about you putting on some old clothes… ?” suggested Jim.
“Aw, these are all right,” I said. “There’s nothing to it. I won’t soil these clothes.”
“You’d better put on an old windbreaker,” suggested Jim cautiously, so I won’t feel I am imposing on you; I may kick up a little dust…”
“Okay, okay,” I consented. And went and put on an old windbreaker and an old and comfortable hat.
We walked around to Jim’s. All up and down the street were evidences that spring cleaning was in full blast in the neighborhood. Huge heaps of ash cans, cartons and boxes were piled out for the garbage men to collect. Ladies sitting, reversed, on window sills polishing windows. Vacuum cleaners humming, sounds of tapping and banging. An air of great activity. Jim’s house was no exception. There were no cartons or boxes, however, stacked on his side lawn.
“Aha,” I chuckled. “I see through you, Frise! You want me to help carry cartons of junk.”
“There’s not much,” said Jim, rather hurrying up his side drive.
“You are still obsessed,” I laughed, “with the idea that a short man can lift a box of rubbish easier than a tall man.”
“It’s mighty decent of you to come over,” applauded Jim as he opened the side door and led the way down cellar. Instantly I realized what a mistake I had made.
“Jim!” I accused bitterly, “have you left the whole winter’s ashes?”
In the front cellar were stacked a dozen large tin garbage pails, wooden boxes and paper cartons, all bulging with ashes. Back in the furnace room, I could see the shadowy shape of more boxes. And beyond them, the outline of a huge pile…
“Aw, I got a little behind the last few weeks,” apologized, Jim. “In that cold snap the furnace was misbehaving, and I had to spend so long tinkering with it I didn’t have time to carry out ashes too.”
“A little behind!” I snorted. “I bet your whole winter’s ashes are here.”
“No, no, no,” protested Jim. “Just towards the end of the winter, I got a little…”
“This is a dirty trick, Jim,” I stated firmly. “The whole business. Getting me all mixed up in your talk about the way men have lost their dignity in this world. And telling me to put on a windbreaker…”
“If you don’t want to lend a hand,” said Jim, “okay.”
“It isn’t their dignity men have lost,” I asserted. “It’s their energy.”
But Jim had hoisted the first big garbage can full of ashes and was sliding it heavily along the concrete floor. It was far too heavy for one man to lift.
“You even,” I suggested bitterly, “had me in mind when you filled that ash can fuller than you could lift it!”
Jim took one step up and, turning very red in the face, slowly hoisted the can up to him. It was a desperate effort.
“It was just a conspiracy,” I said, bending and getting a hold on the bottom of the can. “Even when you were dumping those ashes on the cellar floor, away last Christmas, you chuckled to yourself and said I’ll hornswoggle Clark into helping me clean out the cellar next spring.”
Jim grunted and heaved. I hove. The ashcan went up.
We doubled on the large cans and on the heavier boxes. We singled on the cartons and smaller odds and ends Jim had used for ash containers. It was dirty work. It was bitter-in-the-mouth work. We could hear the garbage and ash men coming down the street. Cans were clanging, boxes thudding. We had quite a collection out on the front lawn by this time.
“Let’s get it all out,” urged Jim.
“Let’s leave what is left for next collection day,” I countered.
“Aw, let’s get the job done,” cried Jim.
So we hustled.
“That loose pile,” I pointed to the heap of ashes, “will have to wait till next time.”
“You could bring down the containers, as the ash men empty them,” explained Jim heartily. “I’ll fill and you carry. We could clean up this little pile in four or five trips…”
“Nothing doing,” I declared flatly. “I undertook to come and help you sweep up a few shavings, straighten up a few furnace tools. If I’d known you had this mess on your hands, I would certainly never have come.”
An Intentional Oversight
The ash men were four doors up as we carried the tenth and eleventh cartons out and stacked them. When I came out with my next load, the ashmen were past Jim’s place. But our huge display of ashes had not even been touched!
“Hey,” I called. “Boys!”
But they paid no attention. I set the carton down and went over to the truck.
“Hey, boys,” I called “You’ve missed those.”
“And we intend to miss them,” replied the head ash man sharply.
“But it’s your duty…” I exclaimed.
“Suppose,” said the ash man, hands on hips, “everybody on the street, suppose everybody in the city, hoarded up their ashes all winter! How many trips would it take us, how many weeks would it take us, to remove all them ashes?”
“Why, there’s just a couple of weeks’ ashes …” I submitted.
“There’s six weeks’ ashes right there,” cried the ash man, “and he’s bringing up more!”
Jim was hastily retreating for another load.
“You can’t leave them there,” I protested.
“Can’t I?” said the ash man. “My truck is full. Suppose I go back and tell my boss that I had my truck full and a citizen had then come out with all his winter’s ashes. What would he say?”
“But it will be an awful eyesore to leave them,” I argued.
“An awful eyesore especially to you,” said the ash man.
“They’re not mine,” I explained hastily. “I’m just helping a friend.”
“Ah, in that case,” said the ash man, and his comrades were gathering, “don’t you think it would help to teach him to put his ashes out over the winter if we just left that pile a few days until our next round?”
“Couldn’t you make a special trip?” I asked, man to man.
“Not a chance,” said the ash man. “Our schedule is tight enough as it is. I don’t know but what my boss might decide that this was a case for the citizen to make his own arrangements for a private truck to remove the ashes. The city doesn’t contract to move a man’s ashes once a year. They undertake to do it twice a week. That makes it possible.”
Jim appeared with another big carton bulging. He was staggering pathetically under the load.
“If you don’t take them,” I said, “the poor guy will have to go to work and carry them all back in the side drive and hide them for the rest of the week.”
“The trouble you save yourself in January,” philosophized the ash man, “always catches up to you in April.”
“The trouble is, it catches me too,” I muttered. “I can’t walk out on my friend now.”
“Is he delicate or something?” asked one of the other ash men, watching Jimmie tottering back up the drive for another load.
Jim was certainly the picture of an invalid.
“Yes, very delicate,” I sighed, hitching up my windbreaker, and preparing to conclude the conversation.
“In that case, Bill,” called the ash man, “back her up.”
So they backed up, and in no time at all they had hoisted all the cans and boxes up, agreeing also to take the old cartons, And they even waited while Jim and I scooped up the pile in the furnace room and carried those cans out.
It is astonishing how much the ash men’s truck will hold; and also, how much an old friendship will hold too.
Editor’s Note: “Red up the dishes” means to clear an area or make it tidy.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 5, 1946.
“Wait a second!” cried Jimmie Frise. “Cranberry!”
“That’s the stuff,” I agreed. Jim’s family was out for the evening, and we had just found in the ice-box a great big plate with about 10 full-size slices off the breast of a cold turkey. Wrapped in wax paper.
“Hold everything,” said Jim, “while I run down cellar.”
I spread the turkey slices out on the wax paper. What a sight! A hot turkey, of course, is something. But cold turkey has a power and a glory all its own.
About a week after the festive season, is there anything more wonderful to find than 10 slices of turkey white meat wrapped in wax paper in the ice-box?
Jim came scampering up the cellar stairs with a quart sealer of preserved cranberries.
“Ho, ho, ho,” he said, wrapping his fist around the top of the jar.
“Salt,” I submitted, going to the cupboard shelves. “And a dash of pepper, eh?”
“Lots of salt on cold turkey,” agreed Jim, grunting as he twisted the top of the sealer.
“Bread?” I suggested.
“No bread,” decided Jimmie. “Just cold turkey, eaten in the hand, and dipped in cranberry.”
“Okay,” I confirmed lustily.
Jim wrenched and twisted. He got a tea-towel and wrapped it around the sealer top. He braced the sealer on the kitchen table and wrenched.
“Run the hot water on it,” I proposed. “That always works.”
Jim set the sealer under the tap and let the hot water run on it.
“That expands the metal top, see?” I explained. “Then it’s a cinch to open.”
Jim took the sealer, and with the tea-towel gave the top a confident twist. But nothing happened.
“Here,” I said, taking the jar, “let me show you.”
I let the hot water run a full minute, steaming, on the sealer. Then I seized it and gave the top a strong, long twist. It didn’t budge.
“Darn it,” said Jim, “there’s some sort of a rubber grip in the drawer here….”
He poked around the kitchen cabinet drawer and drew out a round rubber ring which fitted neatly over the sealer top. This gave a good firm grip. It gave traction. Jim grunted and twisted. But to no avail.
“You hold the jar,” he commanded, “and I’ll twist.”
But not the slightest effect did our combined efforts have.
“Go and get another jar,” I submitted, eyeing the sliced turkey laid out so banquetty on the kitchen table.
“It’s the last jar of cranberry,” explained Jim. “My wife does up just enough to see us over Christmas and New Year’s.”
“How about some jelly?” I suggested. “Red currant jelly?”
“Aw, what the heck,” protested Jim, looking indignantly at the lovely red sealer full of cranberries in his hands. “There is nothing else to take the place of cranberry with turkey. Do you mean to say two intelligent guys like us can’t open a quart jar of cranberries?”
“Let the hot water run on it for a good two or three minutes,” I offered, “solid.”
Jim set the jar under the tap again and let her run hot.
We stood gazing fondly at the turkey. What beautiful meat! White, grainy, smooth, tender.
“Do we need knives and forks?” I inquired.
“Naw,” said Jim. “We’ll just pick up the slice in our fingers, bend it over, dab it in the salt, nuzzle it in the cranberry, and eat it, hunter style.”
“Mmmmmm,” I confessed.
“Cranberries and turkey,” mused Jim tenderly. “Two of the gifts of the New World to humanity.”
“Not the cranberry,” I corrected. “It grows in northern Europe, in swamps, the same as here.”
“Well, I’ll bet you nobody knew what they were for until the turkey was introduced from North America,” asserted Jim.
“A Fortune Awaits Us”
“We’re always talking about tobacco,” I mused, “and the potato and the tomato as contributions of North America to the world. But I’ll bet the first turkeys brought home by the old explorers must have caused a tremendous sensation.”
“How about Henry VIII?” inquired Jim. “He was a noble feeder. I wonder if he ever ate turkey?”
“I’m sure he must have,” I replied, reaching out and nipping a small sliver off the nearest slice.
“Eh, eh, eh!” warned Jim.
“The Spaniards were the first to import turkeys from North America,” I recollected. “Henry came to the throne in 1509, at the age of 18. America had been discovered by Columbus 17 years, by then. Sure, Henry had turkey!”
Jim walked over and took the jar of cranberry from under the hot tap. He took two tea-towels and wrapped them securely around the jar. I took the jar and Jim got both hands snug around the top. One, two, three, and we twisted, putting our weight into it.
But we both had purple faces and aching wrists; and not a sign of the top letting go.
“Now, I’ve had about enough of this,” said Jim, unwrapping the jar and glaring at it.
“Aw, let’s eat the turkey without it,” I urged.
“Not on your life,” cried Jim. “I’m not going to let a silly little thing like a quart sealer stand between me and an historic feast like cold turkey. “No, sir.”
He put the rubber ring around it again and made a few violent efforts, including jerks; but all in vain.
He stood thinking.
“It’s a mighty queer thing,” he muttered, “that in modern science nobody has invented a simple, common, everyday device for easily opening jars. In the past 20 years food has been going into cans and bottles more and more. Yet, is there anything harder to get into than a can or a bottle? Science has not kept pace with modern domestic economy. We still have the old-fashioned can opener….”
“And sardines!” I agreed. “The first sardine can I ever opened, 30, 40 years ago, was opened with that silly old key, twisted kit-a-corner across the box. And in 40 years, I bet I haven’t cleanly and efficiently opened 10 boxes!”
“It always ends up,” concurred Jim, “by digging the sardines out in pieces with a fork.”
“And these vacuum or suction top jars!” I pointed out. “It says – insert point of knife….”
“Look,” announced Jim, with great determination, holding the jar of cranberries out at arm’s length. “Somebody once said, ‘Invent a better mouse trap, and the world will beat a pathway to your door.’ I tell you, Greg, there’s a fortune staring us in the face! Right here, this minute, in my kitchen, there is a fortune, maybe millions, offering itself to us.”.
“Jim,” I breathed, “I believe you.”
“This,” declared Jim eloquently, “is exactly how great ideas are born. This is how fortunes are made. Not by sitting thinking. Not by striving. But simply, two old friends, baffled by a bottle top, going to work, in the humblest manner, down their own cellar, and devising some simple gadget – that will be a necessity in MILLIONS of kitchens! All over the world.”
“It has been staring everybody in the face,” I cried, “all these years!”
“It’s always the way,” enunciated Jim. “Fortune is staring everybody in the face. But they never look. And it is not by great and powerful inventions that the millions are made. It is by these simple, commonplace inventions. Suppose you invent a simple way to split the atom. How many people will buy your machine? Yet, if we can invent some simple gadget that will open this bottle of cranberries, millions of people will buy it…!”
We stared at each other. We stared intently at the sealer of cranberries.
“Let’s go down cellar,” said Jim huskily, “to my work bench.”
We went down to the work bench. We took off coats. It was a great moment. There was an air of strange dignity in Jim’s cellar as we two humble men, with a jar of cranberries on the work bench, stood face to face with Fortune.
“We Need a Model”
Jim felt the magic of it. He cleared his throat.
“Now,” he said, reflectively. “To begin with, it must be an extremely simple thing. Simple to manufacture. Simple to use.”
“Dynamically,” I submitted, “it must have the principle of the lever. It must embody the principle of torsion.”
“Correct,” said Jim. “What we want is a simple ring, with a handle to it.”
“Like nut crackers,” I cried.
“Like nut crackers with a large gape,” agreed Jim, taking his pencil and drawing a little diagram on the work bench top. I looked at it. So simple. So trivial. Yet a device the whole wide world has been yearning for for centuries… or at least ever since gem jars were brought into use. I could hardly see the little diagram Jim had drawn for the $$$$$$ that danced before my eyes like little stars.
“The ring,” explained Jim, “will be serrated, or toothed, so as to grip the bottle top. The handles, like a nut cracker’s handles, should be big enough to be comfortable.”
“So as to afford,” I agreed, “the most comfortable grip to the hand. How long would you make them?”
“We must first,” explained Jim solemnly, “construct a model. Nothing can be decided without a model. All great inventions, however simple, must be expressed in what they call a working model.”
Jim was already exploring around his work bench. He opened drawers, upset old boxes full of junk and coat hangers all over the bench and we sorted through the mess. We found lengths of copper weather stripping, random bits of iron and brass, old door knobs, pot lid buttons, and the head of a small axe Jimmie has been looking for for the past eight years.
After we had thoroughly explored the work bench, the shelves and the cellar at large, we set out on the bench all the materials that might even remotely serve our great purpose.
“Now,” said Jim reverently, because he knew, as I did, that this was one of the great moments in history, “we naturally must not assume that we have found the ideal material with which to make visible our thoughts. It stands to reason that a cellar like mine would not provide, at random, the perfect material. Yet, in the long history of man’s ascent from the caves. I am sure the thinkers – the Thinkers – have seldom had more to start with than this.”
He stood back and surveyed the nondescript collection of copper, brass, tin, iron and other metals. He studied them long and intelligently, as befitted the occasion. I stood beside him and studied too.
Quietly, he stepped forward and picked up a length of pewtery-looking metal. It was just a strip, half an inch wide and about two feet long, which might have been part of the binding of a crate, or something out of the insides of a storm window or something.
“This,” said Jim.
With snips, he cut the length of metal accurately in half.
With two pairs of pliers, he began to bend and shape the soft metal into a half-circle.
“Let me help,” I suggested earnestly.
“Certainly,” said Jim with dignity.
So I took the other pair of pliers and held one end of the metal while Jim did the moulding.
Following Jimmie’s historic diagram on the bench top, a document that might some day find place in the archives of Canada, we bent and moulded the two strips of metal into equal halves and equal handles of a sort of wide-mouthed nutcracker.
By frequently checking the fit of the half-circle on the bottle top of the cranberries, we got a very accurate fit.
“Now,” pondered Jim, “for a hinge.”
“A rivet?” I suggested. “Just for a temporary working model…”
In a cigar box full of door catches, bed casters, hinges and screen door handles, Jim found a good zinc rivet.
With his drill, he bored a hole in each half of the circle of the giant nutcrackers. We inserted the rivet, Jim allowing me to hold the invention while he tapped the rivet and flattened its ends on the iron vise.
“I may be said,” I stated humbly, “to be the first ever to hold the completed Frise-Clark bottle top remover in my hands!”
I held it up.
“And I,” said Jim, taking the newly created epoch-maker in his hands, “shall be the first ever to open a gem jar with it!”
“I am glad,” I said, “that it is cranberries we are opening.”
Jim set the jaws of the new invention carefully and scientifically around the metal bottle top.
He gave it a slight turn.
“Ah,” said Jim.
And with his pliers, he worked slowly, technically, with deep concentration, putting a sort of scallop around the gripping edge of the top remover, like large, soft teeth.
He picked the cranberries up with a slow and dramatic gesture, set the grip of the device around the top, and slowly closed the handles, taking a firm grip on them.
“Now,” he cried, “the birth of an idea! The birth of a fortune!”.
He gave a strong, slow, easy twist.
The top turned.
He gave it another twist and a flourish.
And there in one hand was the open jar of cranberries and in the other, the Frise-Clark Bottle Top Remover, with the top in its grasp!
“Jim!” I shouted, leaping into the air. “Our fortune is made! In half an hour – millions!”
The One in the Drawer
At which moment, we could hear Jim’s family just arriving in the kitchen overhead and they called down:
“What’s doing down there!”
“Shhh!” I warned Jim. “Can they be trusted? Hadn’t we better keep this to ourselves until we see the patent people …?”
But Jimmie was too proud and happy. With the cranberries in one hand and the bottle top remover flourished in the other, he led up the cellar stairs. I noted, immediately, that the whole family was into the turkey.
“What’s all the rumpus down cellar?” asked one of the family with a mouthful of beautiful turkey. Jim, without a word, stood back and held up the jar and the newly born opener.
They all came, chewing and looked at it. They stood on one side of it and then on the other, staring intently.
“So what?” inquired one.
“I made it!” cried Jim triumphantly. “We just invented it!”
“Why didn’t you use the one in the drawer?” they inquired.
“What one?” demanded Jim coldly.
“The one in the drawer,” they repeated, suiting the action to the words, opening the kitchen cabinet drawer and poking around in it.
And then, from the drawer, they produced and held up-the exact image of our invention. Only factory-made.
“Wha… wha… who …?” said Jimmie, lowering the cranberries.
I took the thing and examined it. It was exactly like ours; only better finished, of course.
“Where did that come from?” demanded Jim hollowly.
“It’s been in that drawer,” said the family, “for 10 or 15 years. Why don’t you look in that drawer sometimes, instead of just fumbling?”
“Are they for sale?” I asked weakly.
“Every 5-and-10 has them,” they replied.
By which time, three or four young men, friends of the family, wandered into the kitchen from taking off their coats.
“Turkey!” they cried, pouncing.
And the four or five slices left, vanished.
So Jim and I went back down to the cellar to tidy up and turn out the lights.
“The point is, Jim,” I submitted, “before you invent something, you should always explore the kitchen drawers.”
“Or better,” opined Jim, “when there’s turkey to eat, eat it.”
Editor’s Note: Gem Jars were a brand of preserving jars created in Canada, just like Mason Jars.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 5, 1946.
“The world,” insisted Jimmie Frise, “is getting better.”
“I can see no signs of it,” I asserted.
“It’s getting better and better all the time.” declared Jim. “Better and better for ever larger numbers of people in ever wider areas of the world’s surface.”
“Aw,” I protested, “you mean India and China and Africa and such…”
“Certainly,” said Jim sharply. “Why not? Do you mean the world just around you? Maybe it isn’t so comfortable right in your own immediate circle.”
“How can I judge the world,” I demanded, “except from where I sit?”
“From where we sit,” smiled Jimmie, “is where most of us are judging the world these days.”
“Back in the good old days,” I complained, “we didn’t know about the rest of the world. Occasionally, some missionary would come home from China or Africa and preach to us about the tragic way of life of all those teeming millions. So we gave a dollar to the missionary fund.”
“Conscience,” agreed Jim, “was cheap a few years ago. But nowadays, with the movies and radio and everything, there is no escape for us.”
“Not to mention,” I added, “that millions of British, American and Canadian boys have been in those far parts of the earth – India, China, Africa – and are apt to have formed some opinion.”
“Public opinion,” submitted Jim, “was easy to manage, 20, 30 years ago. Nobody knew anything but what they were told.”
“And now,” I confessed, “when a politician gets up and tries to steer the mob his way, 20 or 50 or 100 young guys who have been in China or India or Africa can get up in the audience and slaughter him with a few words.”
“It isn’t going to be easy to be a politician from now on,” gloated Jim cheerfully. “Too much food for thought lying around everywhere. Newspapers, feature magazines, radio, movies. And too many people eating it.”
“Eating what?” I inquired.
“Food,” said Jim, “for thought.”
“Do you think,” I asked, “that if more people start thinking, the world will get better?”
“Maybe not for us comfortable people,” explained Jim, “who have been doing the thinking in the past.”
“Does thinking make us comfortable?” I parried.
“Thinking,” elucidated Jim, “is merely masticating or chewing food for thought. If you don’t give the people anything to think about, they don’t think. Back 50 years, when only a selected few were allowed to go forward with their education as far as the end of high school, much less the university, only a selected few were given any food for thought. There were no modern newspapers and magazines. No movies, no radio. The serious theatre was expensive and largely designed for that same selected few who had already been supplied, by education, with food for thought. But look at the world now! Education is becoming compulsory. Forced feeding. Whether the young people of today have any appetite for food for thought or not, they are stuffed with it by force. And modern publishing, movies and radio are furiously competing in cooking the food for thought in attractive forms and serving it up in an appetizing way.”
“Darn you and your metaphors,” I groaned.
“I don’t suggest all these millions,” went on Jim, “are going to think straight. But they are going to think. You can’t shove food for thought into the mouths of millions without them chewing it.”
“It’s a horrible simile,” I protested, “Everybody, will have indigestion. Mental indigestion.”
“Maybe, maybe,” agreed Jim cheerfully. “But which is worse? Starving? Or indigestion?”
“In the past, Jim,” I presented, “the people who went ahead eating food for thought were those with the appetite for food for thought.”
“I think,” mused Jim, “that everybody is born with the appetite in some measure. But the way we have had the world organized, the appetite was killed in early life for the vast majority of human beings.”
“But not any more?” I queried.
“Not any more,” said Jim.
Jim drove the car slowly homeward. It was only mid-afternoon, but we had a caulking job to do at Jim’s house. We were going to go all over his downstairs window frames which, over the years, had shrunk somewhat, leaving wind cracks for winter.
“It’s a sort of cafeteria,” he suggested. “And even compulsory education is getting into line with publishers, book, newspaper and magazine, the movies, the radio and all the other distributors of food for thought, so as to make the cafeteria presentation as attractive as possible.”
“Jim,” I suggested, “in the past, when only a comparatively few people were equipped for thinking, what did they devote their thinking to?”
“Okay, what?” asked Jim guardedly.
“They devoted their thinking,” I stated, “to how to get out of doing work. They devoted their thinking to how to get others, who didn’t think, to do their work for them, and make a profit.”
“Now, now,” laughed Jimmie.
“It’s a fact,” I cried. “That’s all thinking really amounts to. How to escape working for somebody else.”
“Well …” said Jim, puzzled.
“And if we equip everybody in the world to think,” I demanded, “then what happens?”
“Well …” floundered Jimmie.
Suddenly he tramped on the brakes and steered the car sharply towards the curb. We were just approaching a big public school. Not a soul was to be seen about it, except a middle-aged man wearing a white cap and white cross bands of canvas over his chest, who was sitting on the curb with his head in his hands.
“I’ll Handle The Traffic”
“Something wrong here,” muttered Jim.
“He’s the guy who ushers the kids across the intersection when school’s out,” I said.
“I know, but look at him,” said Jim, as we bailed out.
“Hi,” said Jim.
The man turned a gray face up to us.
“Sorry,” he said. “I had a bad turn there for a minute …”
“Are you all right?” asked Jim. “Can we run you home? Or to a doctor, maybe?”
“No, no, I’ll be all right,” said the old boy, trying to struggle up. But his knees gave way under him.
“Say, look,” cried Jim, putting his arm around the old chap. “Let’s run you home, eh?”
“No, no,” he said thickly. “The children will be out in a minute …”
I looked at my watch. It was 3.15.
“They won’t be out,” I assured him, “for 15 minutes. Look, we can take you home, and my friend and I …”
“Hey!” interrupted Jim sharply and gave me a fierce look.
“We can call the police station,” I corrected, “and they’ll …”
“There’s no time,” moaned the old boy, weaving in some sort of anguish. “There’s no time to get a substitute.”
“Then,” I stated firmly, glaring straight at Jim, “you give me your hat and cross belt, mister, and while my friend drives you home or to your doctor, I’ll handle the traffic…”
The old fellow clutched his stomach and looked up at me eagerly.
“Would you?” he gasped. “Would you do that? It’s a grave responsibility. All those little children …”
Jim shook his head at me with an expression of disgust on his face.
“Certainly I will,” I assured the old boy kindly. “Think nothing of it. It is a duty any citizen…”
“It would be terrible,” groaned the old man. “All the teachers will think I’m on the job. Nobody will be watching. They’ll stream across … the smallest ones are the worst.”
He was unfastening his cross belts. He handed me his white cap, and a round fanlike sign with “Stop” printed on it. Jim assisted the old chap to his feet and led him to the car.
“I’ll be back in a jiffy,” he told me.
I stood near the school-yard gate, holding the cross belt, cap and stop sign behind me; and planned my strategy. Traffic was typical 3.30 traffic – delivery trucks in charge of slouching boys whizzing past; middle-aged ladies out on their afternoon jaunts, gripping their steering wheels with fixed expressions; trucks, oil tankers, business men busily chewing the fat with their fellow passengers and not looking at the street at all.
Children – Millions of them!
As I watched the traffic in this pleasant residential neighborhood. I suddenly became conscious of its menace. I had never noticed that menace before. Highway traffic has menace. Downtown traffic has menace. But does menace come away up into these nice residential regions?
A small scarlet delivery truck in the hands of a surly youth of about 17 suddenly careened around the corner of the school. His tires screeched. My outraged glare he countered with a lazy sneer and waft of his hand. Down the street came four passenger cars in a row, and behind them a giant truck with trailer. As the parade neared the school, the truck slewed out of line, roared its engine and by-passed the passenger cars.
I looked at my watch. It was 3.26. Four minutes!
To me, it seemed as if traffic suddenly exploded. Cars, trucks, lorries, vans, motorcycles appeared from north, south, east and west.
I cautiously started to strap on the white cross belt.
Glancing around, I tried the white cap on. It didn’t fit. It perched on the top of my hair. Suddenly. I hear bells ringing in the school. And instantly. I could FEEL the school burst into a thousand little lives. At which instant, I heard a particularly fierce screech of tires on the pavement, and there was Jimmie bounding out to my aid.
I had no time to ask him how the old boy was. Already the school doors had swung wide and out poured the children, millions and millions of them. All yelling, all screaming, all darting in every direction like darning needles, butterflies and ants.
“We’re fools!” gasped Jim, as he helped lash the cross belt on me. “Fools! Talk about thinking!”
“Thinking!” I grated. “What this world needs is action, and not so…”
But the horde was already streaming past us. Jim leaped to the gate. I ran to the corner, holding the white cap with one hand and waying the stop sign with the other.
“Stand fast, everybody!” I bellowed in the most authoritative manner, holding the stop sign as high as possible.
A Rabble of Ruffians
A rugby ball took me fair on the back of the head and knocked my cap off.
“Here, GIVE me that football,” I yelled amid the screaming, screeching and din.
“Hey never mind that,” came Jim’s voice bellowing above the tumult.
Cars whizzed, children screeched, trucks groaned, lorries hooted, cars tooted, motorcycles machine-gunned, bicycles swerved and the whole earth seemed a madhouse of racing, gyrating, tumbling, dancing, jumping children of all ages.
“Steady!” came Jim’s voice in my ear.
I held the stop sign to the fullest extent of my arm high over my head. I held my other arm extended. Then I proceeded to walk slowly and with dignity across the intersection. A rabble formed about me, swarmed ahead of me. The football came sailing from nowhere and knocked the stop sign out of my hand. I made a wild leap and caught the ball AND the stop sign in one stoop.
Car horns tooted from all four points of the compass. I was tackled by three young ruffians. With dignity, I continued across the intersection, dragging them with me. Jim followed, holding a little boy and a little girl by the hand.
But 1,249 other children went north, east, west and south, regardless. And when I reached the far corner, 19 young hoodlums tackled me and downed me on a doctor’s lawn. There they played bags on the mill with me until Jim finally got them off.
By which time, the traffic jam had untangled itself, most of the children had gone the way they wanted to go, nobody had been killed, and my services were no longer required.
I walked across and sat on the curb in the exact spot the old man had been sitting when we found him. I too, put my head in my hands. Jim stood over me.
“You see,” he said, “thinking is not enough. You have to reflect. You have to weigh and ponder.”
Three lady teachers came out of the school and walked over to us.
“You might have caused a disaster,” scolded the eldest. “We were watching from the window. Who appointed you to this corner?”
“He appointed himself,” explained Jim. “The regular crossing guard was taken ill and I drove him home while my friend here undertook to take over the duties …”
“You should know better,” said the same lady, “To be a school crossing guard calls for a very special talent.”
“Which my friend hasn’t got,” added Jim.
He helped me to my feet. We undid the white crossbelts off me, and retrieved the white cap and the stop sign from the doctor’s lawn across the street. And we drove around to the regular incumbent’s house and returned his property.
“He’s in bed,” said his wife at the door. “I’ve given him a nice hot drink. He’ll be all right.”
So Jim drove me home and we too revived ourselves with nice hot drinks.
Editor’s Note: I’m not quite sure what “they played bags on the mill with me”, means, but from what I can tell, it just might mean piling up on top of each other.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 27, 1946.
“A Surprise?” inquired Jimmie Frise.
“Yes, sir, a real surprise.” I assured him heartily, as I unwrapped the bundles.
“Well, it will take something to surprise me,” sighed Jim gloomily. “This summer bachelor stuff is all right when you are young. But when you get to be our age, I don’t think a man should be abandoned alone in the city by his family.”
“We’ll get along all right,” I asserted, as I drew from the larger carton the upper works of the charcoal garden barbecue outfit.
“What the heck’s that?” demanded Jim.
“You’ll see in a minute,” I gloated.
“What gets me about this summer bachelor business,” went on Jim grumpily, “is the eating. When you are in your thirties you can eat at any old neighborhood restaurant, Chinese, Greek, or just nice old ladies running a neighborhood Tea Shoppey.”
I lifted from the carton the legs and substructure of the charcoal garden grill.
“What IS this?” insisted Jim, leaning out from his garden chair and inspecting the black tin objects.
“Go ahead, go ahead,” I suggested. “Tell around at the neighborhood quick-and dirties.”
“Well, I was saying,” said Jim, still inspecting what I was pulling out of the carton with mystified interest, “I don’t think men of our age are supposed to be left alone in the city during the summer. We need to be taken care of. We ought to be properly fed…”
I drew triumphantly from the carton the wire grill, the broiler part of the garden barbecue outfit.
“Holy smoke,” cried Jim, leaping up. “What have you got here?”
I hastily set the legs into the charcoal stove part of the outfit and then laid the heavy steel wire grill on top of all.
“Jim,” I announced, “it’s a charcoal broiler, a charcoal barbecue for the garden. I’ve been reading all about them in those home and garden magazines. So I got one.”
“What do you do with it?” asked Jim expectantly.
“Look,” I said, “We fill this deep pan with charcoal. See the little draught holes underneath and along the sides? Well, we get a red hot bed of charcoal in that. Then we lay two beautiful thick juicy steaks on top. And then…”
“Enough, enough!” cried Jim. “When? When do we try it out?”
“Now,” I stated, “This very minute. In the house I’ve got a bag of charcoal. In the house I’ve got two of the slickest big porterhouse steaks with the tails cut off. In one hour from now…”
“Hey, let’s get going,” exclaimed Jimmie, drooling. “How do we fasten that thing together, solidly…”
“Now, just a second, son,” I cautioned him. “We’ve got lots of time. Run in to the top kitchen drawer and get a pair of pliers and a screw driver.”
A Bit of Ceremony
So, in a matter of 10 minutes, we had the barbecue broiler fastened securely together. In another 10 minutes, we had the card table out. In another 10 minutes, I had opened the next parcel, which contained a chef’s hat and white pants.
“What’s all this!” protested Jim anxiously.
“Now, Jim,” I reasoned, “don’t get into such a fuss. This garden cookery is an art. I read all about it in the magazines. You’ve got to dress the part. You’ve got to make a bit of a ceremony out of it…”
“Aw, ceremony,” growled Jim. “If you knew how hungry I am. If you knew how I feel about those two steaks. How thick are they?”
“Look, relax,” I pleaded. “Sit down in that chair there. Relax. This is my party. This is my surprise.”
“How thick?” repeated Jim.
“Two … inches … thick!” I said slowly.
“And what else is there?” demanded Jim, relaxing heavily into the garden chair.
“Salad,” I said, “I bought a ready-made green salad and it’s in there, in the kitchen, in the covered pot, to keep it crisp. And there’s coffee.”
“No bread?” said Jim.
“You’ll have no room for bread when you face that steak,” I informed him, as I put on the white pants and the chef’s hat. From behind the kitchen door, I got one of the family aprons.
“Get the fire on, get the fire on,” muttered Jim in the chair.
“Look, the evening has just begun,” I said. “Relax and watch. The magazine laid emphasis on the fact that eating a charcoal broiled steak in the garden was a pleasure for all. It was a pleasure for the host -that’s me – to prepare it. It was a pleasure for the guests to watch it. That’s you.”
At which moment, our neighbor, with his newspaper, came out with that sort of burping manner that a summer bachelor adopts after he has just eaten a measly supper of corn flakes and milk in his kitchen.
“Well, well, well,” he called across the fence, sizing up my chef’s hat and get-up.
“A little garden barbecue,” I explained to him.
“Hmmff,” he said, setting himself with his paper.
“Full of his evening corn flakes,” I murmured to Jim.
The next item on the agenda was preparing the fire. I went in and unwrapped the two big steaks. They were superb. Beautiful deep red, with little flecks of fat through the lean. The fat mellow white. They were a good two inches thick.
I left them on the table where Rusty, Jim’s Irish water spaniel, couldn’t reach them; and carried the charcoal bag out to the garden. I made a small kindling bed of paper and small sticks, and poured the charcoal over it. From underneath, I ignited the paper. In a moment, the kindling caught, and in no time at all the fire had taken hold of the adjoining chunks of charcoal. And it began to spread rapidly.
“Jim,” I commanded, “go in and put the coffee pot on.”
“How long will it take to broil them?” Jim asked.
“Get the coffee started,” I ordered,
By the time he had returned the brazier was a humming mass of bluish flames from the charcoal, with a hint of the cherry red that was to come.
Whetting the Appetite
Jim came and watched as the charcoal slowly grew in fury. I didn’t fan it. The holes underneath and along the sides of the pan drew all the pressure needed for a steadily mounting glow.
“Put them on now?” asked Jim.
“Sit down,” I explained. “You’re the audience. You should be relaxed and enjoying the show.”
I went in and inspected the steaks. I trimmed off almost all the fat, although the butcher, when he trimmed off the porterhouse tails for me, had taken most of the fat. But the instructions I had read said that very little fat should be left on.
I lifted the lid of the salad pot and the salad was crisp and cold. I carried out the plates and cups.
“It’s bright red now,” warned Jim.
I inspected the charcoal.
“You’ve got to let a little sort of gray film come on the top of the red, before it’s perfect for broiling,” l informed him.
Jim swallowed eagerly.
“Jim,” I announced, “a steak broiled over charcoal is unparalleled in the realm of food. No other kind of cooking can even remotely compare with it.”
“Harrummph,” said the neighbor next door, shaking his newspaper testily and shifting his position away from us.
So I talked lower.
“There is something about charcoal,” I went on, “that seems to transmit a special flavor, a special zest, to the taste of the meat.”
“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” groaned Jim.
“It cooks the steak,” I explained further “without changing the lovely rare quality of the fibres. It has a kind of charred crust on the outside and inside …”
“Listen,” barked Jim, “are you going to cook the steaks or are you going to gas all night …?”
I examined the fire. The bed of cherry red charcoal was a solid bank of shimmering, quivering coals five inches deep. And on top, I could detect the first faint shadow of a gray film…
I hopped smartly into the kitchen and got the two huge steaks. One draped over each hand, I marched down the back steps.
The neighbor, squinting, I could see, around the corner of his newspaper, gave the paper another shake and turned farther away than ever.
Jim stood up as the steaks passed him, the way he would stand up for royalty. He came and watched me as I laid each steak, with the aid of the big fork that came with the outfit, on top of the grill.
As I set it on the sizzling hot grill, a blare of flame leaped up from the charcoal. This was the fat instantly melting and taking fire. Those pure fat flames seared the meat.
“Now you see,” I explained, as the aroma lifted around us, “why they cut off nearly all the fat. You don’t want too much flame…”
“Turn them over, turn them over,” cried Jim, anxiously.
“Stand back, Jim,” I warned. “Sit down. Relax. I am doing this job.”
“But turn them,” begged Jim, sitting down. “Turn them quickly to seal both sides…”
“You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried,” I informed him, as I stood guard with the fork.
“You turn a steak only once when you are broiling it! Only once! You leave those steaks over the charcoal until you can see the transparent bubbles of fat forming on the raw top. THEN you turn them. But just once.”
Jim was scrunching down in the chair to peek under the grill.
“But,” he expostulated, “they’ll be black as soot on the bottom…”
“They’ll have a black crust on both sides, my boy,” I assured him. “And that’s the way they should be.”
Jim got out of his chair.
“Sit down,” I warned.
“I just want to get down wind from them,” explained Jim, “so I won’t waste any of that aroma.”
He got down wind from the broiler and stood, his head back, slowly breathing in the almost indescribably heavenly odor of the broiling steaks.
The neighbor was down wind too, and as I looked at Jim, I could see the neighbor slowly shifting and fanning his newspaper so as to waft as much as possible of it his way. Rusty, Jim’s spaniel, got down wind too and started softly whining and whimpering. Two cats came from different directions and sat on the fences at a respectful distance.
“Don’t you salt them?” asked Jim earnestly.
“Never,” I informed him. “Salt would draw the juices. You salt them when I put them on the plate.”
The neighbor got up and pretended to be studying the perennials along the fence. I could easily see that what he was really doing was shifting his position to get into the best breeze to smell that ravishing odor.
“Smells good?” I called to him friendly.
“Eh?” he said, glancing up. “Oh, yeah. That’s a nice smell…”
Jim shifted, so as to stand between the steaks and the neighbor. He didn’t want to share the perfume any more than he could help.
“Can’t you see transparent bubbles yet?” Jim demanded anxiously.
As a matter of fact, I could. The sizzling steaks were crisp around the edges and you could observe small bubbles and grains of fat beginning to ooze up through the red surface.
“Get the coffee, and the salad, Jim,” I announced.
Jim went and brought the coffee pot and the tin pot containing the green salad.
“Whooeeeee!” went a siren unexpectedly close.
“Hello?” said Jim.
“WHHOOOOEEEEEE!” screamed the siren, and we could hear the screech of giant tires.
“WHHOOOOEEEE!” whooped the siren, and out the side drive, we could see the fire reels coming to a furious stop.
“Fire!” yelled the neighbor, leaping up and heading out the drive.
“See what it is, Jim,” I ordered angrily, for the steaks were just ready to turn.
Jim laid down the coffee and salad and ran out the drive.
“It’s just across the street,” he yelled back. “The minister’s house, I think …!”
I took an instant and turned the steaks. I set them true on the grill. There was another burst of blaze as the released fat seared up under the meat.
Then I too ran out the drive. For you can’t have a fire almost next door without taking a neighborly interest.
It WAS the minister’s house. As a matter of fact, all it was was the ironing board on fire in the kitchen. The minister is a summer bachelor too, and he was trying to iron those little white tabs ministers wear under their chins when they are dressed up for the pulpit. He had laid the electric iron down for a minute…
Without a Trace
All the neighborhood crowded around and it took five minutes to express the proper condolences to our good friend. And then Jim and I broke away and hurried across to the garden.
“They’ll be just about done,” I assured.
Jim was a little ahead of me as we rounded the corner of the house.
He stopped so suddenly I bumped into him.
“Gone!” he whispered.
“GONE!” he roared.
The brazier stood there, redly, grayly glowing.
The chairs, the table, with the coffee pot, the salad pot, everything, just as we had left it.
But the two steaks, the TWO steaks, the great succulent, sweet smelling porterhouse steaks, were gone.
I whipped around to look for Rusty, Rusty was still across the road with the firemen.
I whipped the other way and looked over the fence.
The neighbor was gone. His chair was there. The newspaper lay on the grass, where he had flung it.
“Jim,” I gritted.
We strode out and looked across at the crowd around the fire reels.
“Go and see if he’s at the back with the minister,” I commanded.
Jim hurried across the road.
I went and made a rapid search of the hedges, the shrubbery. There were no footprints, no traces.
The two cats still sat, eyes closed, purring on the distant fences.
I heard Jim’s footsteps returning.
“No sign of him over there,” said Jim in a low voice.
I snatched off my chef’s hat. I yanked off the apron.
“What are you going to do?” inquired Jim hastily.
“I’m going in and ask him for our steaks!” I hissed.
“You can’t do that…” protested Jim. “You can’t accuse a man of stealing…”
“He’s got ’em,” I gritted. “He’s got ’em! Did you see the way he was sniffing and trembling when I was cooking them…?”
“Go and rap on his door,” said Jim, “and merely ask him if he saw anybody around the garden…”
I did so. I rapped. I rang. Nobody answered. The door was open and I was tempted to tiptoe in. I called. I rang and rapped.
I stuck my nose in the doorway and sniffed.
But even if there were any telltale odor, I had lost the power to smell it from standing over those steaks for so long.
“Let’s sit and wait,” suggested Jim, when I came back.
“It’s too late to buy another couple of steaks,” I reflected.
So we sat and waited. No sign of the neighbor.
Dusk came. Jim and I nibbled the salad. We had a cup of coolish coffee.
Dark fell. No sign of the neighbor.
“Well,” said Jim at length, “I’m starved. I’m simply weak from starvation. So let’s…”
So we went up to the nearest neighborhood quick-and-dirty and had fried eggs and bacon.
And when we got back home, the neighbor’s house was all closed up, chair folded away, newspaper picked up, and a soft low light glowing in an upstairs bedroom.
But mind you; it is purely circumstantial.
Editor’s Note: Backyard barbeques were a new invention after World War Two, hence Jim not knowing what it was. Of course, cooking over fire or charcoal was nothing new, nor was barbeque in general. But up until then, barbeques were usually fixed things, that you would do at campsites or picnics. The idea of a small, portable barbeque that you could have in your backyard was new.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 6, 1946.
“What’s that?” interrupted Jimmie Frise.
“It’s a cat,” I informed him.
“I thought you disliked cats,” said Jim.
“I certainly do,” I stated. “Of all the creepy, sly, cruel…”
“Well, what’s a cat doing in your house?” demanded Jim.
“It’s not in the house,” I assured him. “It’s out in the side alley.” We listened. A cat meowed.
“That’s in the house!” insisted Jim.
“No, it’s out in the side drive,” I said easily. “No cat would ever get into this house. Nobody’d let it in. Cats know I hate them. I don’t think a cat has ever been in my house.”
“It’s a lifelong prejudice, eh?” said Jim.
“Maybe there’s some psychological mixup in my feeling about cats,” I mused. “But ever since I can remember, I’ve had a creepy feeling about cats. I have no sympathy for them at all. No feeling, except one of deep repugnance. Lots of my friends and relatives have cats. But I’m so uncomfortable with a cat in the room, everybody I know always sends the cat out when I’m expected.”
“What a fussy old pot you are!” scoffed Jim.
“Look,” I demanded, “can I help how I feel about things? Am I responsible for what I feel? This feeling was born in me.”
“Haven’t you any free will?” inquired Jim. “Do you just go through life wearing all the hates and prejudices you were born with? Don’t you feel free to figure things out for yourself?”
“Some things, Jim,” I submitted, “are too deep in people’s natures to be extracted by mere thinking.” The cat meowed again.
“Darn that cat!” I said, getting up nervously, and rapping warningly on the window over the side drive.
“Mmmmm,” observed Jim, “you ARE a cat hater.”
“There may be some psychological basis for it,” I offered. “They tell me that when I was a small baby, we owned a white cat – a beautiful gorgeous snow-white tomcat. It was very fond of me and I was immensely fond of it, so they say. It used to sleep in my carriage, and when I began to walk, I used to carry the cat all over, sort of bent in the belly the way a baby carries a cat; and I used to hold it by the tail and otherwise abuse it. But it never protested. We were inseparable companions, so the story goes. Then one day, somebody poisoned my beautiful white cat. I was only about two years old and I don’t remember any of this. But it seems I found my lovely white cat stiff and dead at the foot of the garden. Nobody knows how long I tried to get the cat to wake up and play. At any rate, I came staggering into the kitchen carrying the stiff white cat in my arms. Doubtless there was a scene! Doubtless my mother screamed. Doubtless they snatched my poor white cat from me…”
“Nobody will ever know,” agreed Jimmie, “what happens to the mind, ideas and prejudices of a little child before he is able to think.”
“I have the feeling,” I declared, that the incident of my white cat has something to do with my lifelong abhorrence of cats. I bet half the blind prejudices in this world are based on some queer, incomprehensible happening in a child’s life, before he had the power to understand.”
The Boogie-Man Stories
“Maybe,” suggested Jimmie, “our hostility to Russians and their hostility to us – maybe our feeling about all foreigners, maybe the queer, insurmountable prejudice we feel against people of another color than ours…”
“Possibly all,” I agreed, “based on boogie-man stories we were told as little, scared children. The Russians tell boogie-man stories. So do we. So do all nations on earth. The quickest way to scare a little child into obedience is to tell him a boogie-man story.”
“To create a real good boogie-man,” I submitted, “you have to make him different in all respects from the people around the neighborhood. Thus, when we grow up, it never occurs to us that, perhaps, our worst enemies are people we see every day. We always suspect a foreigner.”
“The Russians,” agreed Jim,” probably have better boogie-men than any of us. For remember, all Russians 20 to 30 years of age now, were told stories in childhood about the fierce boogie-men all around them. They were hemmed in with boogie-men. It was the terrible British, German, American and French boogie-men who were trying to starve them to death, in 1926 to 1930. Remember? When a little Russian kid cried for more food, how did the mother explain it? Why, she told the little baby about the terrible boogie-men all over the world, who would have no truck or trade with Russia. Our prime minister, in those days Mr. Bennett, said: ‘No truck or trade with Russia.’ So did everybody else. All the world. We were busy, in those days, trying to cure Russia of her wicked ways. So when a Russian mother told the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk to her babies, she didn’t say:
‘Fee, fie, fo, fum,
I smell the blood
of an Englishmun!’
“She had the terrible giant say:
‘Fee, fie, fo, fum,
No truck or trade
“Jim,” I submitted, “you may have something there. When we grow up, we never look for boogie-men at home. We always look for them abroad. What we’ve got to do is look for boogie-men both at home and abroad.”
“Or else,” suggested Jim, “stop telling children boogie-men stories.”
“Ah, you can’t do that, Jim,” I sighed.
“You’ve got all the tired mothers of the world against you there. Children are unmanageable little brats. When the mother’s patience has reached its limits, there is nothing for her to do but scare the kids with a boogie-man story. It’s the same with the governing class in all nations. When they can’t manage the people any longer, they tell them boogie-man stories and scare them into behaving.”
“Meee-Ow!” said the cat.
“Hist!” hissed Jim.
“Meee-OW!” said the cat.
“By golly, Jim!” I cried, leaping up. “That cat IS in the house!”
“I told you so,” said Jim.
My hair began to prickle and stand on end.
“Listen!” I commanded. And in a moment in the silence, we both heard the long drawn “meeow” of a cat, right under our feet.
“It’s in the cellar!” I shouted, “Come on, get it out of there!”
We raced down cellar and I switched on the lights. Immediately, I saw what had happened. The coal men had left the cellar window open when they delivered the last ton.
“The window, Jim,” I pointed.
“Where’s the cat?” Jim asked.
“It probably went out when it heard me coming,” I said.
But it hadn’t. From under the work bench came a soft, meek, creepy, pewly-mewly little mew.
“Yahhh!” I shouted, seizing a furnace shovel.
“Mew!” said the cat, in that sweety, Itty-bitty style.
“Scat!” I roared, clattering the shovel on the concrete.
But the cat did not move. “Meeeee-ew?” it said, with that sneaky questioning tone a cat can adopt.
A Whole Batch
Jim was down peering under the work bench.
“Saaaayyy!” gloated Jimmie. “You’ve got a whole batch of cats. She’s made a nest here, in the basket…”
“Awfft!” I protested vehemently.
“Come and see them,” pleaded Jim. “Aw, look, the tiny darlings, they haven’t got their eyes open…”
“Get them out of there,” I cried. “Chuck them out the window, the way they came in…”
“What!” roared Jim. “Do you mean to say you’d throw these baby kittens out into the cold world… a mother, honoring your house by selecting it for her nest for these tiny innocent…?”
“Yah, some alley cat!” I grated, standing well back where I couldn’t see them. “Some alley cat, sneaking in my cellar window…”
Jim reached into the shadows and brought out, on the palm of his hand, a little fuzzy ball, not as big as an egg. I looked away. I looked back. The fuzzy ball lay perfectly still on Jim’s hand. Then I slowly stirred. It cuddled down into Jim’s cupped palm.
“Put it back!” I commanded. “I’ll take the basket out…”
“Now, just a minute,” asserted Jim firmly. “After all, these are somebody’s kittens. This is somebody’s cat. You’ve got no right to treat somebody’s cat…”
“Why don’t they look after their darn cat?” I demanded angrily.
“Maybe she was caught unawares,” pleaded Jim. “Maybe she is a young cat and these are her first babies and she didn’t know what to do when the magic hour came to her. Maybe she was locked out of her own home by accident. Maybe the family was at the movies. She had to find a nest and maybe she had to find it terribly soon. So she went frantically up and down the street, in all the side drives, hunting for a dry, warm place…”
I went over and looked stiffly down.
“And by heaven’s grace,” Jim continued, “she found your cellar window open, and she came in, breathing prayers of gratitude, and found this basket, with old clothes in it…”
I could make out the curled figure of the cat. Her head was turned down, as though she were murmuring to a baby. She looked up at me, with wide, surprised topaz eyes that caught the cellar light. She opened her mouth in a soundless “meow.”
“How many are there?” I demanded grimly.
Jim, with soothing sounds, pawed in around the cat. “Six,” he said.
“Let me see them,” I requested coldly.
Jim lifted the mother cat out on to the floor, and revealed a solid fluffy mass, about the size of a handful of feathers. As I watched, the mass slowly pulsated and seemed to move. Tiny paws and miniature legs reached out and shoved. I suppose everybody should see a cat when it is newborn. I knelt down.
The mother came and rubbed against my leg. Her tail, sticking straight up, almost brushed my chin.
“Scat!” I said, recoiling.
“Well, what are you going to do?” inquired Jim pleasantly,
“Will you take them, Jim?” I retorted. “You like cats.”
“We’ve got two cats already,” said Jim. “And Rusty.”
Rusty, who had been asleep upstairs, came down. He examined the cat and the kittens with discreet interest.
“I tell you what I’ll do,” I said, very practically. “I’ll take them around the neighborhood, in the basket. I’ll ask everybody around here, and somebody will surely know whose cat she is. And I will then present the rightful owner with his property.”
“And suppose you don’t find them?” asked Jim. “After all, cats stray far and wide.”
“Then,” I said, “in that case, I’ll do what sensible people have been doing from time Immemorial. I’ll drown the kittens in a pail of water and turn the cat out to find her way home.”
“I guess that’s practical,” agreed Jimmie. “Everybody drowns kittens. The best of people. Not cat haters. Cat lovers. They drown surplus kittens.”
“Okay, before it gets dark,” I said, “let’s go round the block.”
The cat got back in the basket and I carried her and her invisible babies upstairs while we got our coats on. Then we went out and started our calls. I asked all the kids of the neighborhood if they recognized the cat. Or course, they all wanted to see the kittens, and I had to keep taking the mother out and putting her back, while dozens of kids pleaded for me to give them one of the kittens. I had to explain that a kitten has to have its mother for a few weeks.
Several of the kids gave us wrong steers, and we called at houses completely round the block once. But nobody recognized the cat. And everybody thought the family scene was just adorable. One lady wanted to adopt the whole family on the spot.
“Give her the basket!” muttered Jim, urgently.
But I did not. After all, this cat was somebody’s property. It was my duty find the rightful owner. And anyway, the more you looked into that basket, the queerer you felt. After all these years…
When we had made one complete round of the block, I decided I had done my duty. We went back to my house and down into the cellar.
“Drown the Weakest First”
“Ah, well….” sighed Jimmie, philosophically. And he got a pall under the laundry tubs and I heard him running it full. I set the basket on the stairs and the mother got out and looked at me with that surprised topaz gaze. She rubbed against my leg. I gave her a cautious, slow stroke of my hand. Gosh, how soft! Not mushy. Soft!
I could hear her bubbling. Not purring.
Jim came back and set the pail before me. He picked up the basket, sorted over the kittens and picked one out.
“First the worst,” he said. “Second the same. Drown the weakest one first.”
In my hand, I could feel its tiny little spickles of claws tickling. It wobbled, it half stood up on Its front legs, then collapsed. Its eyes were tiny bluish bulges under its skin.
“Go ahead,” said Jim, picking out another one, and holding it ready in his palm.
The kitten on my hand started turning round and round, as if seeking something. Its little legs and paws pushed and strained. It fell on its ear, against my thumb. It was softer than anything I had ever felt.
“I wish…” I said a little hoarsely, “I wish it was white.”
“That’s the weakest one,” explained Jim. “It’s a poor specimen, just a runt. I say you drown the weakest first, eh?”
The mother cat, seeing the pail of water, got up on her hind legs and curled a tiny, pink tongue down into the water and lapped. I never saw anything so dainty as that wisp of tongue flicking…
“I could advertise,” I submitted. “I could advertise, and the owner would pay for the ad…”
“It would be a lot of trouble,” declared Jim.
“Well, anyway,” I concluded, putting the weakest kitten back in the ball of fur in the basket, “if I keep them a few weeks, just until they are old enough to give away, all I’d have to do would be to go over and stand in front of the school at 3.30, and it wouldn’t be two minutes before all six of them would have a good home…”
“How about taking them back,” asked Jim, “to that lady around the block who wanted to adopt the whole basketful?”
“Yeah,” I said, “and have her drown all but the one she wanted to keep!”
“Well, then,” said Jim, “in that case, you’d better go and get the mother a saucer of warm milk…”
Which we did.
And then Jim and I went back upstairs and continued our debate on the effects of boogie-men on the childhood of the world.
Editor’s Notes: This story may have upset a few people looking at it with modern eyes, but it was common in the past to kill unwanted kittens or puppies. There was no spaying or neutering, and no other way to control the population. I mentioned in a previous post that people did not worry about controlling pets (dogs and cats would be let loose outside to run wild). So drowning puppies or kittens was not considered a big deal, just practical.
Greg would mention the story of his cat when he was a toddler in the future as well, so I suspect it is true.
This is another example where I have the colour image, and you can see how much more expressive it is compared to the microfilmed copy at the end.
There were three lines where they discussed boogie-men in other countries that I have removed due to racist references that added nothing to the story. My thoughts about racism and stereotypes in Greg and Jim’s work are indicated here.